When we hear about tragedies around the world and Christians facing persecution, what is our response?
A couple of years ago I surveyed the students who had been on Global Projects (InterVarsity’s short-term mission program). Forty percent experienced depression upon return. I have watched students come back from a summer spent living in some of the most desperate conditions humanity is experiencing today and ditch the faith. They do not have the theological framework to support the existence of an all-powerful, good God and the reality of human suffering.
Too many of us in the Western Church have built a house of cards for our faith–beautiful, large and colorful, but completely unable to sustain the weight of suffering.
The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary has more than 6,700 thoroughly researched entries. They have an entry on the word "sulfur," for instance (referencing Sodom and Gomorrah), but they have no entry for the word "suffer." According to this Bible dictionary, Scripture has nothing to say about suffering. This is clearly a reference tool constructed from a Western Christian theology—one that has no room for suffering. How can we, in good conscience, send this resource to believers in China or Uganda or any other place Christians are suffering poverty, oppression or persecution?
I remember the comments of the General Secretary of the Rwandan Christian student movement after the horrific genocide of 1994. He was in a Burundian refugee camp with his wife and daughter. Leaders in the International Fellowship of Evangelical students offered to bring him out to England for theological studies. He said, "If I do not share in the suffering of my people, how can I share in their joy in the end?" Some of the "New Friar" agencies have identified suffering as a value, which they embrace.
Suffering is a Kingdom reality; it is the bedrock upon which the streets of gold are laid. Without it, there is no substance to God’s people. Consider the following:
1 Peter 2:21: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (TNIV).
Romans 5:3–4: "… but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
Philippians 1:29: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him."
Philippians 3:10–11: "I want to know Christ –yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."
Hebrews 13:3: "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."
James 5:10–11: "Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered."
1 Peter 4:12–13: " Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”